California Central District Finds Federal Standards Prevent State Law Negligence Claims Arising from In-Flight Fuel Dump – Professional Negligence

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In In re Delta Air Lines, Inc.., a federal district court in California held that plaintiffs’ claims arising from state law negligence theories were implicitly preempted by federal aviation regulations (“FARs”) dealing with various aspects of the in-flight procedures. The case happened when an airliner dumped fuel as it was returning to the departure airfield for an emergency landing after experiencing a compressor stall in one of its two engines shortly after takeoff. The plaintiffs were residents who owned properties that were allegedly damaged by the spilled fuel. In addition to the negligence claims against the airline, the plaintiffs also alleged torts unrelated to negligence, including trespassing, nuisance, ultra-hazardous activities and battery.

The airline filed a motion to dismiss in which it argued that “federal law provides the exclusive standards for determining the liability of air carriers for alleged flight safety violations.” The court agreed to dismiss plaintiffs’ negligence claims, finding that the area of ​​aviation safety (including the fuel dumping at issue here) was implicitly preempted by the FARs dealing with fuel dumping and the relevant guidance contained therein. in the airline’s FAA-approved flight manual. . The court did not reject the claims of non-negligence, finding that it was not yet clear whether the airline could be held liable for these claims even if it complied with the federal standard of care – in d’ In other words, the court found that a conflict between state and federal law was not yet apparent. The court also found that the non-negligence claims were not expressly preempted by the Airline Deregulation Act because the flight path was not a standard “route” taken by the airline. The court granted the plaintiffs leave to amend the negligence allegations in the current complaint following a subsequent determination of the applicable federal standard of care.

Although the preemption of state law product liability claims has been the most contentious and high-profile area of ​​aviation preemption law in recent years, it is important to remember that courts consider generally than in-flight operations (that is to say., equipment on landing) are subject to a federal standard of care, and thus claims arising from alleged in-flight safety violations are often ripe for arguments that federal law’s standards of care States shall give way to those set forth in the FAR.

In re Delta Air Lines, Inc.., 2021 US Dist. LEXIS 253478 (CD Cal. Nov. 19, 2021).

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